A fairly new haunt in Anaheim called The Empty Grave boldly opened in Late August and The Universal Studios Horror nights had debuted their franchised scare fare of mazes a weekend earlier than usual, but in Southern California the official Halloween Season doesn’t kick down the door and scream like a banshee until the Opening Night of Knott’s Scary Farm’s annual Halloween Haunt. Traditionally I go with a group of friends on the first Thursday when the lines and foot traffic are fairly sparse and surprisingly they were a little bigger than last year forcing us to miss one of the mazes but on the whole you get to do and see a whole lot more on off nights and this night was off in more ways than one – but that’s a good thing…sometimes.
I started off the night with a big chip on my shoulder that I was carrying about last year’s highly touted and devastatingly bland 4oth Anniversary edition which had the monsters hanging in the background and being very silent rather than aggressive and in your face as we all hoped it would be. I had been fighting a flu for two weeks and my manic depression was cycling rapidly like a Space Chimp poppin’ Bennys and chain smoking butts. Rumor had it that the venerable park that started the haunt industry and set the gold standard had new management and said management was starting a trend to pull the reigns in so as to capture the dollar gap left by Disney to those without large families and loyal locals who needed a place to play after Disneyland Resort had installed a substantial and controversial price hike to play in the sanitized and candy coated fascism of a world that is immersive and can never be. A world that Knotts wants to some extent.
Anyhoo, I was prepared to be angered and disappointed like last year. Although Knott’s Berry Farm stands firm on continuing it’s stance on averting overt terror which they relish @ Universal Horror Nights they do however up their game in terms of acting classes, psychological themes and appealing to the locals with a lot more of everything, but still making it clear by absence that you won’t be seeing any chainsaws or Spinning Vortex Tunnels which used to be their stock in trade. The creative staff of maze designers succinctly put a large scaly foot down of disappointed Nay sayers by explaining that anybody can do a dizzy spin opening or ear splitting chain saw finale and they would rather scare in more creative ways. I personally think this is their go-to phrase for really meaning they want to keep costs and law suits down as much as possible. I totally see their point on the inevitable chainsaw climax being trite but hell, so is a grilled cheese sandwich but everyone still loves them. So all this falderol is leading up to that despite some firm policies to refrain from too much anxiety, Knotts has gone back to doing what it does best and that’s delivering a good bang for your buck with an evening of spooky fun.
The biggest difference for this year, which used to be a given, was the absence of live actors in the rides such as the mine train. They did do an adequate job of decorating it but save this ride for when you need to rest your feet because you will need it. The Timber Mountain Log Ride was not decorated this year but it just got a big face lift a couple of months ago and the new animatronic dummies have leering grins and big glass eyeballs that make them look like they’re grinding on Ecstacy. Very Creepy.
Now. for the Mazes. We got a group together for the extra charge premium maze called Trapped. Last year it was pretty good and lots of fun. It’s an interactive maze with puzzle challenges and elements that play on major phobias. This new edition emphasized tight spaces as the pay off to half of the challenges. SPOILER ALERT we suggest that you save your money for one of the more outrageous mazes in town such Black Out or Delusion but I absolutely have to tell you guys about this one part of our adventure. After a couple of tasks with gross out characters we were led into a smallish padded cell with a lone mental patient. At this point we know it’s our job to find the way out. One of our party notices that light is coming from the bottom of one of the panels and another deduces that the entire wall comes up like a garage door if three of us pitch in. The actor starts out slightly upset saying “that’s not the way out in a creepy voice and getting in our faces but we do not relent. Finally the mental patient shrieks at the top of her lungs “That’s not the way out” and then security comes in. Yup, we f*cked up. We thought it was part of the act but there was another way out and we seriously scared the actor that was supposed scare us without even trying to. If she had just said “Hey idiot, cut that crap out” I think we would have gotten the message. So they rushed us to the next room and from that point on we were tracked very diligently on camera so if we didn’t get the puzzle in a few minutes they would just kick us out. Last year’s trek was scarier but this we will never forget.
The Best Mazes of The Night Were Trick Or Treat which featured a lot of retro Halloween imagery and a tour through a green witch’s house, which had a great finale of her flying up to the roof. Black Magic had a lot of Houdini type imagery gone wrong and great costumes of people wearing animal masks. Once again this ended big with faux fire effects and bungee jumping actors. Nevermore was our favorite maze of the busy evening and it perked us up because by that time our dogs were doing some serious barking. Based on classic tales from Edgar Allan Poe Never More took on a modern approach of depicting tableauxs of serial murders committed by a fiend in a white bird mask based in clever ways on the tales of Poe. The Pit and the Pendulum climax was very good. We skipped the Mirror Mirror maze because the line was close to an hour long and opted for the traditional stunt show and farce of the town square hanging. It didn’t surprise many people that Miley Cyrus ended up in the noose. We heard the Elvira show was very satisfying. She stopped doing the Haunt a while back when a piece of scenery hit her during one of the shows. All is apparently forgiven.
Bottom line is Knotts is affordable and back to frightening teenagers in a satisfying way offering lots of fun. If you want the real chills head over to Universal Studios or more obscure stuff like Zombie Joe’s Underground Tour or The Blumstone House version of “The Purge” in the flesh.
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